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"Good men ... running around in circles" Benjamin Foulois, Billy Mitchell, and the flight for the future of the Army Air Service.


Benjamin Foulois never set out to become a key figure in the history of American aviation. In fact, his first encounter with a flying machine did not occur until he was twenty-eight years old. As one of America's original military aviators, he flew the U.S. Army's first dirigible balloon and its first airplane, learning to fly from early aviation pioneers, including the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss. He began thinking about the military uses of air power in 1907, years before the publication of the theories of William Mitchell, Giulio Douhet, and Hugh Trenchard. Foulois twice led the Army's air forces, as Chief of Air Service for the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I from 1917 to 1918 and again as Chief of the Air Corps from 1931 to 1935. After retiring from the Army, he continued his advocacy of air power through many speeches and lectures, and as head of the Air Force Historical Foundation. Foulois died in 1967, making him one of the few eyewitnesses of military aviation from its beginnings with the Wright Flyer to the technological triumphs of the Mach 3+ SR-71 and the globe-spanning intercontinental ballistic missile.

A majority of the scarce literature on Foulois' military career focuses on his years as the Chief of the Air Corps, and for good reason. His role in the infamous airmail fiasco of 1934 had many ramifications for both Foulois and the Air Corps, culminating in the creation of the General Headquarters Air Force in March 1935 and Foulois' dismissal as Chief of the Air Corps at the end of that same year. (1) Other mentions of Foulois in aviation literature mainly center on his early aviation experiences from 1908 to 1913 and his role in the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916.

The few references to Foulois' performance as Chief of Air Service during World War I are generally limited to his clashes with Mitchell, who famously disparaged Foulois' incoming staff by referring to them as carpetbaggers. (2) This statement was indicative of the animosity between the two early aviation pioneers, who continued to clash throughout the rest of the war and into the interwar years. The two men could not have been further apart in both upbringing and personality. Mitchell was born into wealth, the son of a United States Senator, and used his family connections to agitate for an independent air force in the court of public opinion. Foulois, in contrast was the son of an immigrant plumber and worked his way up the enlisted ranks to twice become the chief of army aviation, where he used bureaucratic maneuvering in the War Department and the halls of Congress to work toward the same result.


In Airmen and Air Theory, Philip Meilinger states, "All of us have a deep interest in knowing how others, perhaps like ourselves, have met challenges, dealt with failure, and accommodated themselves to victory and fame." (3) The story of the conflict between these two aviation greats during World War I and beyond can provide insight into the current debate over parallels between the early days of air power theory and the ongoing development of comparable theories of cyber power.

Taking Command in France

When Foulois took command of the fledgling Air Service in November 1917, he inherited an organization that suffered from internal confusion and division of responsibility. Gen. John Pershing gave Colonel Mitchell, acting as the Aviation Officer for the Expeditionary Forces in France, jurisdiction over the front-line areas known as the Zone of the Advance, and assigned Maj. Raynal C. Bolling jurisdiction over the Zone of the Interior. This arrangement effectively divided the responsibilities of the Air Service between two men, resulting in inefficiencies and confusion about the chain of command. On September 3, Pershing rectified the situation by appointing Brig. Gen. William Kenley, an artillery officer, as the Chief of Air Service, with command authority over both Mitchell and Bolling. (4) Pershing also moved the Air Service's headquarters to Chanmont, where it would be co-located with the headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces. (5)


After his arrival on November 12, Foulois spent two weeks inspecting Air Service facilities and units throughout France to assess the state of the Service, and then officially took over from Kenley as Chief of Air Service on November 27. Pershing also named Foulois a member of the Joint Army and Navy Aircraft Committee in France, his representative to the Inter-Allied Expert Committee on Aviation of the Supreme War Council, and the Commandant of Army Aeronautical Schools in France. (6) On December 12, Foulois announced the composition of his new headquarters, which he divided into eight sections: Policy, Administration, Technical, Training and Organization, Operations (Zone of the Advance), Balloon, Personnel, and Supply. (7) As part of the reorganization, Foulois removed Bolling from his position as Assistant Chief of Air Service, Lines of Communication, and appointed him as the chairman of the Joint Army and Navy Aircraft Committee, where he worked to coordinate industrial, military and naval activities in Europe and the United States. (8)

Foulois' reorganization of the Air Service marked the first of many conflicts with Mitchell, who noted in his memoirs, "A more incompetent lot of air warriors had never arrived in the zone of active military operations since the war began." (9) Foulois rejected Mitchell's inference that the Air Service needed experienced pilots in the headquarters positions rather than executives with direct commissions by noting, "We had no planes to fly, no organization to train them, and no facilities to sustain air operations." (10) Foulois' first priority was to build a supply and training infrastructure in France, and he built his staff with this goal in mind. Mitchell also states, "The competent men, who had learned their duties in the face of the enemy, were displaced and their position taken by these carpetbaggers." Again, Foulois disputes Mitchell's assertion, noting that the only officer that he displaced was Mitchell himself, whom Foulois replaced with Col. Robert Van Horn, a nonflyer with extensive experience in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection. Foulois states that he placed Mitchell in command the Air Service components of the 1st Corps in order to place him under the tight disciplinary control of the 1st Corps commander, Gen. Hunter Liggitt, and to give Mitchell a chance to prove himself as the commander of a corps-level aviation unit. (11)

Foulois and his group of "carpetbaggers" did the best they could at the monumental task organizing, training, and equipping the Air Service, considering their many handicaps including shortages in materiel, manpower, facilities, and most importantly aircraft. Even before he left for France, Foulois knew that he would have to populate his staff with many non-flying officers who possessed the necessary executive experience to put together a giant logistics and training organization from scratch. As Foulois explained:

The lack of knowledge on the part of the General Staff, A.E.F., of the many complex problems involved in the technical, industrial, and tactical organization and development of the Air Service activities, both in the Service of Supplies and in the Zone of the Advance, made it absolutely imperative that the Air Service representatives charged with the co-ordination of our Air Service activities with the policies of the Commander-in-Chief, as announced from General Headquarters, should be men of broad military experience, with General Staff training, and men whose reputations in the Army were such that their views and opinions would carry weight, and receive full and serious consideration. (12)


Foulois was loath to place pilots on his staff because experienced aviators were in short supply at the beginning of the war, and he felt that they could better serve the Air Service as commanders of tactical units on the front. However, Foulois did recruit two pilots for his staff, Lt. Cols. Townsend Dodd and Charles Chandler. His selection of Dodd to head the Supply Section was "absolutely necessary during the first few months of our development, due to the fact that he was at that time the only officer in the Air Service, A.E.F. (Flying or nonflying) who had had practical experience in the problems of supply, maintenance, and repair of aeroplanes, engines, transportation, etc." (13) Similarly, Foulois recognized Chandler's skills and experience as a balloon officer and placed him in charge of the Balloon Section of the Air Service.

These conflicting views on the optimal composition of the Air Service staff were among the greatest philosophical differences between Foulois and Mitchell during the war. Mitchell firmly believed that non-aviators had no business commanding flying activities either in the Zone of the Advance or in the Zone of the Interior. In a memorandum to Foulois, Mitchell states, "As to the non-flying officers of superior rank in the Air Service, these in fact have and are exercising direct command over the training and practical use of tactical air units. This is well known to be wrong ..." (14) In addition, he also objected to Foulois' use of non-aviators as Section heads on the Air Service, stating "In my opinion, non-flying officers should not be entrusted with work they cannot possibly know anything or very little about. It puts the lives of all in the air in jeopardy and creates an extremely bad morale among the flying personnel who have to do the fighting." (15) Mitchell, like many of the other aviators in the Zone of the Advance, believed that "the men who actually did the work in the air were the younger ones, who had not yet reached the positions they were entitled to in accordance with their ability, So it happened that the upper positions were filled by incompetents from the army and a few from civilian life." (16)

Foulois agreed with Mitchell that in a perfect world, aviators should man the Air Service from the Chief of Air Service down to the pilot fighting the Germans on the front. However, Foulois knew that he did not live in a perfect world, and he had to make compromises in order to build up a staff organization while simultaneously manning tactical squadrons at the front with experienced aviators. In order to place experienced aviators on the front as quickly as possible, Foulois insisted, "that all trained flying officers employed on Air Service activities in the Service of Supplies, would be relieved of such work as rapidly as non-flying officers could be trained to efficiently take their places, and that the flying officers, so relieved, would be sent into the Zone of Advance to command tactical units on the front." (17) Foulois also attempted to alleviate Mitchell's concerns about non-flyers commanding tactical units by directing, "That if it became necessary to assign non-flying officers to actual tactical command of Air Service units on the front, such non-flying officer[s] would be required to do a sufficient amount of flying ... in order to gain actual air experience, as well as to gain and hold the confidence and respect of the personnel under their command." (18) Neither of these directives closed the rift between the two men, and their rivalry only intensified when Pershing assigned Foulois as Mitchell's direct superior in the 1st Army.

Although Foulois made great efforts to build up the Air Service during his first six months in command, Pershing could not ignore Foulois' lack of progress in getting combat squadrons to the front to support the eighteen American divisions that had arrived in France by May 1918. (19) In fact, by May only seven American combat squadrons had made it to the Western Front, including the 1st Aero Squadron that Foulois led during the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916. (20) The individual abilities of Foulois' staff members, while excellent, did not make up for their inexperience in military staff work. Internal strife within the Air Service took many forms. The air officers already in France when Foulois showed up were for the most part Regular officers, while most of Foulois' new staff was composed of recently commissioned civilians who held higher ranks than the regulars. (21) The initial groups of furloughed pilots who were working as cooks and chauffeurs while awaiting the beginning of flight training in Issoudun were outraged when pilots who had graduated from the recently constructed schools in the United States began showing up in France with higher ranks and better training. Pilots on the front were loath to take direction from staff officers who refused to even step foot in an airplane. Ground officers on the staff accused the pilots of being temperamental and lacking a sense of teamwork and self-discipline. (22)


Change of Command

To make matters worse, on March 28, Bolling was ambushed and killed by German troops while inspecting combat operations in preparation for his transition to command of II Corps' air arm later that spring. Pershing had been using Bolling's extensive logistical experience to "take some of the pressure off Foulois and bring form and structure to the acquisition of aircraft and air-related materiel." (23) The Air Service staff's inability to form an effective organization, combined with the loss of key personnel and production delays in both France and the United States, threatened to derail the American Expeditionary Forces' aviation program. On May 29, 1918, Pershing relieved Foulois as Chief of Air Service and replaced him with Brigadier General Mason Patrick, who was the senior Corps of Engineers officer in France. (24) However, why Pershing replaced Foulois with Patrick depends on whom you ask.

Foulois, in his writings, insisted that he asked to be relieved of his duties as Chief of Air Service in order to focus on leading combat operations at the front. By May, the primary duties of the Chief of Air Service consisted of managing construction and logistics programs, and Foulois knew that once American squadrons entered into combat in quantity, he would have little time to oversee the fighting on the front in the Zone of the Advance. (25) Foulois notes in his memoirs, "My value, as I analyzed the situation, lay in my practical experience with planes and pilots--not as a manager of construction projects." (26) On May 11, Foulois asked Pershing to be relieved of his duties and reassigned as Chief of Air Service for the 1st Army. Foulois' other reason for requesting relief as Chief of Air Service was his increasing concern about Mitchell's lack of progress in the Zone of the Advance. Foulois later described the Zone of the Advance as "a bunch of disorganized men, a bunch of disorganized airplanes--somebody had to put them together, and that was my job, I put them together [sic]." (27) In his new position as Chief of Air Service, 1st Army, Foulois was determined to "put [his] tactical experience to work and get the coming air squadrons whipped into shape." (28)

Mitchell took a very different view of Foulois' actions as Chief of Air Service. From the beginning of their confrontational relationship in France, Mitchell had based most of his opinions about Foulois on rumors. When Foulois first arrived in France, Mitchell noted, "Foulois, I am told, had orders from the President to General Pershing to put him in charge of aviation in Europe, even though he was no longer an active pilot. They say he announced before leaving the United States that he would command not only the American services but in a short time that of all the Allies as well." (29) Later, when Patrick replaced Foulois, Mitchell made his opinion clear on Foulois' leadership abilities when he commented, "things had become such a mess in the interior that it was necessary to put somebody in charge of things there in whom General Pershing had confidence." (30) Mitchell's criticism that Foulois was no longer an active pilot was both wrong and ironic. It was wrong because Foulois was an active flyer throughout his staff tour at the War Department, and ironic because at the time of his statement, Mitchell was not officially a pilot in the Air Service. Despite his misgivings, Mitchell was initially unconcerned when Foulois became his immediate superior officer as Chief of Air Service for the 1st Army, "As there were no air units in the First Army ... he would not have very much to do." (31)


Pershing, as Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, could no longer ignore the aviation production delays, the lack of coordination between the Air Service staff and his General Staff, and the friction between Foulois and Mitchell. In his memoirs, Pershing notes as early as January 1918, "In the A.E.F., differences of opinion and the consequent lack of cooperation among aviation officers upon whom rested the task of organization and training caused confusion and loss of time." (32) According to Patrick, Pershing's frustrations culminated in May, when he called Patrick to his headquarters and told him, "In all of this Army there is but one thing which is causing me real anxiety. And that is the Air Service. In it there are a lot of good men, but they are running around in circles. Somebody has got to make them go straight. I want you to do the job." (33) Pershing, however, confirms Foulois' claim that he requested to be relieved as Chief of Air Service and praises him for his service, "Brigadier General Foulois, at his own request and in order to assume charge of aviation in the First Army, was to be superseded by Brigadier General Patrick. Foulois' desire to secure general cooperation made him a valuable assistant and but for his experience and his efforts we might not have avoided so many of the pitfalls that lay in our way." (34) Pershing's selection of Patrick to succeed Foulois was a shrewd choice. Pershing had known Patrick for years, beginning with their time together at West Point, and he reasoned that Patrick's seniority would enable him to stand above the conflicts between the many ambitious air officers in the Air Service, almost all of whom (including Foulois and Mitchell) were under the age of forty. (35)

In his six months as Chief of Air Service, Foulois made great strides toward creating a smooth running organization that could produce combat squadrons to support Pershing's ground troops, but shortages in personnel, materiel, and aircraft ultimately frustrated his best efforts. Foulois did his best to adapt his plans to accommodate these shortages, but external strife between his staff and the General Staff and internal strife between his recently commissioned non-flying staff and Billy Mitchell's old guard of pilots doomed his efforts and led to Foulois' and Pershing's mutual agreement that he should step down as Chief of Air Service. The ongoing animosity between Benny and Billy would soon reach its climax when Foulois finally received his chance to satisfy his "personal desire to lead America's combat arm in battle," in his next assignment as the Chief of Air Service for the 1st Army, making him Mitchell's direct supervisor. (36)

Clash on the Western Front

On June 3, 1918, Foulois arrived in Toul as the Chief of Air Service for the newly formed 1st Army of the American Expeditionary Forces. Foulois' new position effectively demoted Mitchell, then serving as Chief of Air Service of the 1st Corps, and placed Mitchell in the position of having to report directly to a man whom he intensely disliked. The first meeting between superior and subordinate did not go well. In his memoirs, Foulois described the encounter:

When I entered his luxurious (for those days) office, he greeted me coldly, like a school principal being visited by the head of the PTA.

"There's no use beating around the bush, Billy," I told him. "I'm here to take over your office, your files, and your job. You are relieved as of this moment."

The expression on Mitchell's face was pathetic. He turned gray and his jaw sagged open in shock as if I had kicked him in the groin ... He began a loud monologue about how I had been out to get him ever since I had been promoted to brigadier general. When I tried to interrupt to refute his allegations, he babbled on almost incoherently and burst in to tears like an immature child. [Lt. Col. Frank] Lahm and I were embarrassed for him, but his actions only proved to me that he was indeed unfit to command. (37)

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Lahm, who flew with Foulois during the first days of army aviation in 1908, and who Foulois had selected for his staff as the new air chief for the 1st Army, describes the incident in his diary and seems to back up the essence of Foulois' claims,

We went to Mitchell's office--he was pretty sick over the proposition, but said he would move out at any time ... Mitchell and Heintzelman came in from lunch and the transfer took place--it was almost tragic. Gen. Liggett's instructions were definite. Everything was to be turned over that was needed. F.[oulois] interpreted it to mean practically everything. Mitchell first named one thing, then another--then the personnel ... Finally it came down to his own desk which he said he had had for some time--he was told to keep it, but the men broke it up in trying to move it, so Mitchell finally said he did not want it. (38)

For Foulois, Mitchell's petulant behavior during the transfer of command was the last straw. The next day, June 4, Foulois wrote a memorandum to General Pershing in which he requested that Mitchell be immediately relieved of duty and returned to the United States for observation and medical treatment. In his memorandum, Foulois notes, "Colonel Mitchell, during the past year, has had considerable hard field service in France, and from my personal knowledge, has on numerous occasions performed excellent service, particularly during the past month. His actions during the past two days, however, firmly convince me that his is either mentally unfitted for further field service, or is incapable of working in harmony with myself, in carrying out the policy of the Commander-in-Chief." (39) Four days later, Foulois received a reply from Brig. Gen. J. W. McAndrews, Pershing's chief of staff, which stated that Pershing had spoken personally to Mitchell about the matter, and that further insubordination toward Foulois would not be tolerated. In addition, McAndrews relayed Pershing's wishes that Foulois "meet Colonel Mitchell more than half way on this matter," and "The fact that you have been his junior and are now his senior makes it possible for you to afford to do this." (40) Though the two would never be friends, they at least managed to establish a truce, and Foulois decided to give Mitchell a chance to prove his theories and talents as an air commander during the approaching Chateau-Thierry operation.

In mid-June, Foulois formed the 1st Air Brigade, composed of all the tactical units under his command, and placed Mitchell in command of the Brigade. He then ordered Mitchell to proceed to Chateau-Thierry "for duty in connection with the tactical and technical supervision of all Air Service units designated for service in that area." (41) Once again, Foulois had to rein in Mitchell's propensity to take personal control of all Air Service units he encountered, and in a memorandum on July 1, Foulois warned him that, "Your own position as Brigade Commander is not construed ... as giving you control over the Air units of the Corps except as directed by the Corps commander." (42) In his memorandum of July 4, Mitchell professionally responded to Foulois' instructions, in which he acknowledged Foulois' concerns, provided reasons for his actions, and promised, "The Air Service Brigade now attached to the Corps will work as directed by the Corps Commander under the tactical orders of the VI French Army, with which it has established [and] maintains close liaison." (43) After reviewing Mitchell's actions at Chateau-Thierry, Foulois found that Mitchell had overruled the orders of tactical Air Service commanders on several occasions, and had given orders directly to subordinate units without following his established chain of command. However, aider taking into account the inexperience of Mitchell's subordinate commanders and the fluid nature of the air war over the front, Foulois concluded that he would probably have taken the same actions, and subsequently defended Mitchells' actions to Pershing's Inspector General, who was investigating the matter. (44)

For the Good of the Service

During the Chateau-Thierry campaign, Foulois also encountered many problems with the Air Service's efforts to keep his squadrons at the front supplied with replacement airplanes and personnel. He saw great wastage in both airplanes and engines, with insufficient back shop capacity for the salvage and repair of damaged airplanes and motor vehicles. (45) Patrick's headquarters, by this time, had also informed Foulois that the Air Service's next operations were to commence later that summer in the Toul sector. If the Service of Supply was having so many problems resupplying his forces at Chateau-Thierry, located only 45 miles from major supply centers, how could his squadrons at the front possibly receive adequate support when they would soon be 300 to 400 miles from Air Service supply depots? Foulois knew, based on his experiences as Chief of Air Service, that the Service of Supply needed to build additional depots and repair shops closer to the front in the Toul sector in order to rein in the wastage and delay in resupplying frontline units. He also knew that he was the best man to take on this responsibility. (46)

On July 25, Foulois wrote a memorandum to Pershing in which he requested relief as Chief of Air Service, 1st Army, and recommended that Mitchell take his place. In the memorandum, Foulois praised Mitchell's performance, stating, "I am glad to say that the technical and tactical supervision exercised over these units by Colonel Mitchell has resulted in a minimum loss of life, a maximum effective use of material available, and a high fighting spirit of morale which will be most beneficial in establishing the standard of efficiency for all new Air Service units now organizing and to be organized in the future." (47) Foulois gives three reasons for his recommendation of Mitchell to replace him. First, he wanted to show Mitchell that in spite of their different leadership styles, he still appreciated and recognized Mitchell's talents as an air commander. Second, he recalled Pershing's request to "meet Colonel Mitchell more than half way," and determined the needs of the Air Service were best served with Mitchell in command of the 1st Army's Air Service and Foulois returning to the staff to work logistics and training issues. Finally, and most importantly, Foulois realized that the Service of Supply's progress in building the Air Service's infrastructure was "not up to the point where they should have been at that date ... The responsibility for this lagging in development of Air Service activities rests fully upon myself, and not upon General Patrick (Author's emphasis)." (48) Foulois felt personally responsible for the Service of Supply's failures, and he wanted a chance to fix them and finish what he started in 1917.

After Pershing granted his request for relief as Chief of Air Service of 1st Army, Foulois spoke with Patrick and lobbied for a position as the Assistant Chief of Air Service in charge of logistics. Foulois saw the excessive losses both in combat and in ferrying aircraft between depots and the front, and he calculated that the Air Service could not execute the upcoming St. Mihiel and Argonne operations with the remaining equipment. From his time as Chief of Air Service, Foulois knew all the aircraft manufacturers in France, England, and Italy, how much materiel they could produce, and how much additional materiel he could squeeze out of them in order to provide supplies for the upcoming American offensives. Ultimately, Foulois wanted the job because while Patrick was an outstanding leader, like Mitchell he knew nothing about aviation logistics, and Foulois believed he was needed on the staff to fix the supply lines. (49)

Throughout this trying period, Foulois showed great personal integrity. In July 1918, as the Inspector General was investigating Mitchell's actions during the Chateau-Thierry operation, Foulois on his own initiative went to the investigators and informed them he felt that Mitchell had taken appropriate actions and he would have done the same under similar circumstances. As Foulois notes, "But my sense of justice and fair play would not allow me to take such a course of action [withholding his recommendation from the Inspector General], although I have been told on numerous occasions since then, that I was too generous and should have allowed Mitchell to eliminate himself by his own actions." (50) By the end of the war, Foulois had developed a great admiration for Mitchell's tactical skill, culminating in his decision to step down as Chief of Air Service, 1st Army, to make way for Mitchell, "something that neither Mitchell nor most officers would have done." (51) DeWitt Copp neatly sums up the episode: "Whether he made the move as a tactical retreat in the face of what he realized were superior forces or because he believed his talents were better suited to solving the difficulties of training and supply is not known. Poker was a game Benny Foulois played well." (52) Based on Foulois' many statements on the matter, the answer is most likely "all of the above."

Postwar Conflicts

After the war, Foulois spent the next decade agitating for independence of the air arm, and slowly reestablishing his credentials as a commander and a logistician. In December 1931, he achieved his goal of heading the Army's air arm a second time, and spent the next four years preparing the Air Corps for the next war with Germany, which he believed was inevitable.

Both during this period and throughout his career, Congressional legislation and testimony were Foulois' preferred method of overcoming bureaucratic opposition to accomplishing his goals, and he won more battles than he lost. Foulois constantly volunteered to testify before congressional committees, and he appeared before both the House and the Senate dozens of times throughout his career. He also did not hesitate to exert direct influence on the legislative process; on several occasions during his career, he surreptitiously crafted and submitted legislation to congressional members sympathetic to his cause. By confining his dissent with War Department policies to the halls of Congress, he was able to take advantage of the rules of the bureaucracy in order to criticize the War Department General Staff without fear of official retribution. Foulois' mistake at the end of his career was his failure to understand that the rules work both ways, and that the General Staff could freely criticize him in the halls of Congress, eventually leading to Congressman William Roger's crusade to have Foulois fired as Chief of the Air Corps after the airmail fiasco of 1934.

This method of registering dissent with War Department policies was perhaps the greatest difference between Foulois and Billy Mitchell; after all, they were both after the same goal, an independent air arm co-equal with the army and navy. Mitchell, with his important family connections and (apparent) wealth, chose to use the court of public opinion to press his views on the incompetence of the army and navy, and the army retaliated with a court of its own. Although Mitchell had the backing of the public during his court martial in 1925, he had made many enemies within military circles, and even his highly placed Washington connections could not save him from conviction. Mitchell's status as a maverick haunted him for the rest of his life; when Congress formed the Baker Board to examine the Air Corps and make recommendations for improvement, several senators and congressmen asked Secretary of War George Dern to name Mitchell as a member. Dern refused to let him get anywhere near the panel, stating that the board's task was technical, not political, and that he wanted no Mitchell-like tirades or headline grabbing. (53) Foulois, on the other hand, used congressional testimony, legislation, boards, and appropriations battles to persuade Congress to impose change on the War Department, culminating in the creation of General Headquarters Air Force in 1935. The General Headquarters Air Force was the practical result of Foulois' decision to compromise between his ultimate goal of independence and the then-reality of full control by the General Staff Ultimately, Foulois knew when to push for independence, and when to substitute compromise for total victory.


Protecting the Future

Foulois also used his positions as Chief of Air Service and later as Chief of the Air Corps to nurture and protect the next generation of air power leaders in the army. Many of the officers he mentored throughout his career were members of the North Island Flying School and the 1st Aero Squadron in Mexico. In a 1916 photograph of the 28 officers of the Flying School, 13 would go on to become general officers later in their careers. (54) Foulois took many other officers under his wing during his tenure as Chief of the Air Corps, and he provided protection from the General Staff for several officers who testified on Mitchell's behalf during his court martial. Many of Benny's disciples went on to hold critical positions during World War II and beyond.

Carl "Tooey" Spaatz flew with Foulois during the Mexican Punitive Expedition, and Foulois later entrusted the young major with command of the training center at Issoudun during the war. Foulois kept his career on track after Spaatz testified at Mitchell's trial, and he served as Foulois' Chief of Training and Operations in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps. Spaatz went on to command 8th Air Force during World War II, and after the war became the first Chief of Staff of the Air Force. (55) Henry "Hap" Arnold was another promising officer who testified at Mitchell's trial and was subsequently ejected from Washington for continuing Mitchell's crusade for independence. Foulois salvaged his career by giving him command of March Field in 1931, and Arnold subsequently served as one of three regional commanders during the Air Corps airmail operation. (56) Arnold eventually became the Chief of Army Air Forces during World War II, and was the only airman to ever win a fifth star. (57) Frank Andrews, another Mitchell supporter, served as Foulois' executive officer for several years in the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps, and was held in high regard by both his Air Corps colleagues and the General Staff. (58) Later, the General Staff selected Andrews as the first commander of General Headquarters Air Force, and he went on to a distinguished career in World War II, culminating in his selection as Commanding General of the United States Army in Europe in 1943. Many believe that were it not for his untimely death in an airplane accident, he might have become Supreme Allied Commander instead of Dwight Eisenhower.

The most notable event during Benny Foulois's tenure as Chief of the Air Corps was his failure during the air mail fiasco to take his combat-trained air force and deploy them on short notice as commercial airmail carriers, a mission they were neither trained nor equipped to execute. Foulois retired on the last day of 1935, under a cloud of controversy courtesy of the Rogers subcommittee, and refused to have anything to do with the military for the next two-and-a-half decades. In 1959, he once again "joined" the Air Force, and spent the remainder of his life passing on his hard-won lessons about air power to future generations. His message was subtle yet important: "But General Foulois always had a deeper message for his audiences than to remind them of their aviation heritage. He warned again and again about the dangers of complacent thinking, of letting the disease of communism spread, of resting on the laurels of past wars won." (59)



Today, the United States Air Force faces a new set of challenges, this time in cyberspace. With the rapid proliferation of ever-more effective cyber weapons, several military and civilian experts have called for "a Billy Mitchell to sound the alarm" about America's unpreparedness to wage a cyberwar. (60) Perhaps, however, what the Air Force needs is not a "cyber Billy Mitchell," with the attendant accusations of criminal negligence in the under appreciation and misuse of cyber capabilities, but a "cyber Benny Foulois," working patiently within the system to establish new cyber capabilities and missions in order to counter the growing cyber threat.

To accomplish this goal, the Air Force will need visionary officers to develop creative solutions, just as Foulois showed creativity in developing (eventually) an effective logistics infrastructure for the Air Service and working within the system to advance new concepts of air power employment. Although Foulois had very little respect for Mitchell as an officer, he continued to nurture the careers of the supporters of Mitchell's theories, including Arnold, Spaatz, and Andrews, so that a new generation of visionary air power advocates would be in place to command the Army's air arm in the next war. Foulois' actions were the prototype for subsequent Air Force generals developing like-minded advocates for technological and doctrinal innovations, and resonated through the decades with Generals Curtis LeMay and the nuclear bomber, Bernard Schriever and the intercontinental ballistic missile, and Charles Gabriel and the AirLand battle.

In his introduction to the book, The Paths of Heaven: the Evolution of Airpower Theory, Colonel Phillip S. Meilinger wrote, "Library shelves are crammed with books about the aerodynamics of flight, technical eulogies to specific aircraft, and boys' adventure stories. Less copious are good books on air power history or biography ... Much needs to be done to fill such gaps." (61) One of these gaps is the story of an unsung hero of the Air Service in World War I, Major General Benjamin Delahauf Foulois. Though not as famous as the combat hero Eddie Rickenbacker or the maverick theorist Billy Mitchell, Benny Foulois is unmatched in his contributions to the success of the American Air Service in France, and a study of his failures and success during the war and beyond can be of great use in addressing the problems of today's Air Force.


(1.) John Shiner, "Benjamin D. Foulois: In the Beginning," in Makers of the United States Air Force (USAF Warrior Studies), edited by John L. Frisbee (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force, 1987), p. 33.

(2.) See for example, John H. Morrow, Jr., The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921, (Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1993), p. 272.

(3.) Philip S. Meilinger, Airmen and Air Theory: A Review of the Sources, (Maxwell AFB: Air University Press, 2001, p. 3.

(4.) James J. Hudson, Hostile Skies: A Combat History of the American Air Service in World War I, (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1968), p. 52.

(5.) "Final Report of the Chief of Air Service, A.E.F. to the Commander in Chief American Expeditionary Forces", (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1921), p. 24.

(6.) Official Biography--Major General Benjamin D. Foulois. 5445 (accessed January 2010).

(7.) War Department, Office of the Director of the Air Service, "Brief History of the Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces," Jul 1, 1920, p. 4.

(8.) "Final Report of the Chief of Air Service, A.E.F.," p. 28.

(9.) William Mitchell, Memoirs of World War I, (New York: Random House, 1960), p. 165.

(10.) Benjamin D. Foulois with C. V. Glines, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts: The Memoirs of Major General Benjamin D. Foulois (New York: McGraw Hill Book Company, 1968), p. 161.

(11.) Benjamin Foulois, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts, p. 161. This is an interesting justification, given that Foulois himself had never commanded an organization larger than a squadron prior to his selection as Chief of Air Service.

(12.) Maj Benjamin D. Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," to Lt Gen Robert L. Bullard, President of Infantry Efficiency Board, War Department, memorandum, 14 October 1919, p. 130.

(13.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record," p. 130.

(14.) Brig Gen Benjamin D. Foulois, "The Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (1917-1918)," 1919, attachment D, p. 9.

(15.) Brig Gen Benjamin Foulois, "The Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces," attachment D, p. 9.

(16.) William Mitchell, Memoirs of World War I, p. 176.

(17.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record," p. 129.

(18.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record," p. 129.

(19.) The Official Record of the United States' Part in the Great War, (New York: Parke, Austin, and Lepscomb, 1923), p. 111.

(20.) John J. Pershing, My Experiences in the World War, vol. 2 (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1931), p. 125.

(21.) John F. Shiner, Foulois and the US. Army Air Corps 1931-1935, (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, 1983),p. 9.

(22.) James Hudson, Hostile Skies, p. 56.

(23.) James Cooke, Billy Mitchell, (London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), p. 70.

(24.) Wesley Craven and James Cate, eds, The Army Air Forces in World War II, vol. 1, Plans and Early Operations, January 1939 to August 1942, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 11.

(25.) Brig Gen Benjamin Foulois, "The Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces," p. 35.

(26.) Benjamin Foulois, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts, p. 171.

(27.) Donald Shaughnessy, "Flight Interview," interview with Maj Gen Benjamin D. Foulois, p. 20 January 1960, p. 38.

(28.) Benjamin Foulois, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts, p. 171.

(29.) William Mitchell, Memoirs of World War I, p. 165.

(30.) Ibid., p. 205.

(31.) Ibid.

(32.) John Pershing, My Experiences in the World War, vol. 1, p. 285.

(33.) Mason M. Patrick, The United States in the Air, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1928), p. 6.

(34.) John J. Pershing, My Experiences in the World War, vol. 2, p. 50.

(35.) Alfred Goldberg, editor, A History of the United States Air Force 1907-1957, (Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1957), p. 22.

(36.) Benjamin Foulois, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts, p. 175.

(37.) Benjamin Foulois, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts, p. 172.

(38.) Lahm, Frank P. "The World War I Diary of Col. Frank P. Lahm, Air Service, A.E.F." Unpublished diary. Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Air University Historical Research Division, 1970.

(39.) Maj Benjamin D. Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," to Lt Gen Robert L. Bullard, President of Infantry Efficiency Board, War Department, memorandum, 14 October 1919, p.146.

(40.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 147. Mitchell had outranked Foulois before the latter's temporary promotion to brigadier general and arrival in France.

(41.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p.148. This organization, where Mitchell commanded all the combat units in the 1st Army and Foulois and his staff commanded the support and logistics units, became the prototype for the latter reorganization of the Air Corps in 1935 into a General Headquarters Air Force that operated separately from the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps.

(42.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 149.

(43.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 151.

(44.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 152.

(45.) Brig Gen Benjamin Foulois, "The Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces," p. 36.

(46.) Brig Gen Benjamin Foulois, "The Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces," p. 37.

(47.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 152.

(48.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 155.

(49.) Albert F. Simpson Historical Research Center, '22 S. Air Force Oral History Interview," interview with Maj Gen Benjamin D. Foulois, 9 December 1965, pp. 41-42.

(50.) Maj Benjamin Foulois, "Personal Service Record for Period 1898 to 1919," p. 155.

(51.) DeWitt Copp, A Few Great Captains: The Men and Events that Shaped the Development of US. Air Power, (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1980), p. 21.

(52.) DeWitt Copp, A Few Great Captains, p. 21.

(53.) James Cooke, Billy Mitchell, p.267.

(54.) Maurer Maurer, The US. Air Service in World War I, vol. 2, (Washington, D.C.: Office of Air Force History, U.S. Air Force, 1978), p. 60.

(55.) Official Biography--General Carl A. Spaatz. 210 (accessed March 2010).

(56.) Donald Shaughnessy, "Flight Interview," p. 46.

(57.) Official Biography--General Henry H. Arnold. http ://www. af. mil/information/bios/bio_print, asp?bioID=4 551 (accessed March 2010).

(58.) DeWitt Copp, A Few Great Captains, p. 121.

(59.) Benjamin Foulois, From the Wright Brothers to the Astronauts, p. 298.

(60.) John Osterholz, "Data Bombs Away," (accessed March 2010).

(61.) Col Philip S. Meilinger, ed, The Paths of Heaven: The Evolution of Airpower Theory, (Maxwell AFB: Air University Press, 1997), p. xii.

Lt. Col. Karl Schrader, USAF, is an Electronic Warfare Officer with more than 2,500 flying hours on the AC-130U gunship and the RC-135V/W RIVET JOINT, and has participated in multiple overseas contingency operations, including Operations JOINT GUARD, JOINT FORGE, ALLIED FORCE, SOUTHERN WATCH, IRAQI FREEDOM, and ENDURING FREEDOM. His academic awards include the Air Force Historical Foundation Thesis Award from the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, and both School of Advanced Air and Space Studies, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, "A Giant in the Shadows: Major General Benjamin Foulois and the Rise of the Army Air Service in World War I," June 2010.
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Author:Schrader, Karl R.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2011
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